Confined Cruelty: Israeli Treatment of Palestinian Minors

They shoot children, don’t they?

The innocence of childhood is a precious jewel to be gently cared for and nurtured, allowing the child, whose future we are building, to develop happily and safely in an atmosphere of love and peace. For many Palestinian children their childhood is lived under a cloak of fear, and the threat of violence and abuse at the hands of an armed force that stalks the streets of their homeland.

In the eleven years since 2000 Israeli forces have killed 1,471 children in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the bulk of which are aged between 13 and 17 years old. The children of Gaza have been, and continue to be, at greatest risk, with almost a thousand murdered in the last twelve years — on the streets of their city, on their way to and from school, whilst playing with friends, shopping for their family or simply relaxing in their homes. Most are shot randomly, indiscriminately, or killed as a result of Israeli air and ground attacks. Around 50 were taken prematurely from their families by unexploded ordnance.

This latest attack on the people of Gaza began on Friday March 9, killing 25 Palestinians. According to the Palestine Monitor the Israeli air force fired missiles from the comfort of their warplanes at civilians arbitrarily, shooting onto the streets of Gaza and into peoples homes in the Jabaliya refugee camp that were mostly full of women and children, The faceless attackers even shot at mourners attending a funeral. Such is the callous, vicious nature of the Israeli security forces, that kills, injures and intimidates innocent women and children, destroying all hope of living peaceful decent lives, and all in the name of “security”.

Nonsense! This is criminal violence, nothing more or less. These most recent atrocities come on the back of the massacre that took place in December ‘08/January’09, when, according to If America Knew, a total of 1417 Palestinians were murdered, of which 318 were children and 116 women. Fresh in the children’s young memories lie the echo of that horrendous time, the constant bombardment, the loss of loved ones, and the shootings. In addition to the deaths, around 1000 children were injured in the three-week assault.  Many children were left with severe physical disabilities and deep psychological wounds, the mental/emotional effects more difficult to see and/or to treat than broken bones and scarred flesh.

The Gaza Community Health Programme estimates that half of Gaza’s  children – around 350,000 – will develop some form of post-traumatic stress disorder. This is staggering but unsurprising, and the attacks this March on unarmed civilians will serve to intensify the mental suffering and anguish that these children are living with. Occupied Palestine states:  “Both parents and psychologist fear that Gaza children could be affected psychologically in the long run.”

Children make up around 45% of the four million or so total Palestinian population, a fact that terrifies an aging Israel.  What impact does living under the brutal Israeli occupation have on them? Are they inclined towards peace and brotherhood? Is tolerance fostered in their hearts and minds or are the seeds of hate and the desire for revenge being carefully sown? Does violence ever bring peace, or does it perpetuate conflict? Violence we see begets not harmony, but further violence.

Colonel Desmond Travers, one of the co-authors of the UN’s Goldstone Report, in a July 2011 interview with Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss, stated that:

We spoke to a psychiatrist in Gaza,  who said ‘we already see in our schools in Gaza the next generation of Hamas revolutionaries, children exposed to so much violence, they have no option but to terminate their childhood and move into a different frame, and the likelihood is that they will never stabilize. In order to justify the unjustifiable, the unjust Israel needs to instil hate into another generation of Palestinians – to maintain Israel’s position as the ‘enemy within’, thereby excusing in some perverted distortion of the facts, their continued aggression, violence and violation of international laws, too many to count.

Intimidation and Torture

Palestinian children living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip under the illegal Israeli occupation are subjected to brutal treatment, illegal imprisonment, torture and intimidation by Israeli security forces. In its 2012 report “Bound, Blindfolded and Convicted”, the Defence for Children International states that a pattern of systematic ill-treatment [of Palestinian children] emerges, much of which amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, as defined in the UN Convention against Torture, and in some cases, torture – both of which are absolutely prohibited.

Since 1967 Palestinian children, as well as adults, have been subjected to Israeli Military Law, a legal system based on prejudice and short on justice. In the time since this emergency system was instigated 726,000 Palestinians have been arrested and detained. The numbers of children arrested and taken from their homes is shocking. According to Defence of Children International:

In the past 11 years alone, around 7,500 children, some as young as 12 years, are estimated to have been detained, interrogated, and imprisoned within this system. This averages out at between 500-700 children per year, or nearly two children, each and every day.

The  DCI report adds that mostly the arrested children live in villages in areas of tension, “friction points, namely, settlements built in violation of international law, and roads used by the Israeli army or settlers.” The situation appears to be escalating particularly in certain areas of the West Bank.

The International Solidaritary Movement (ISM) reports:

The extreme Golani Unit of the Israeli military is escalating its arrests of Palestinian children in Al Khalil (Hebron), targeting boys between the ages of 12 to15 years old with at least 10 reported cases of child arrests made (in early February 2012) just in the span of one week.

As well as arrests, incarceration in solitary confinement has also increased, with almost a quarter of all children arrested being held in isolation. Children, mainly boys, aged from 12 to 17 years old, are forcefully taken from their families, often at night, imprisoned in a tiny, dank cell, illegally beaten and tortured, intimidated and, on occasion, subjected to electronic shock treatment. Most children are detained for the terrible crime of throwing stones at soldiers armed with M16 rifles and tear gas, all courtesy of the American arms industry.

The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem described the ordeal of Yahia, aged 15 years, who together with four of his friends, was arrested and taken to the illegal Israeli settlement of Zuffin. They had their “hands tied behind their backs, they were blindfolded, before being forced to kneel on the ground for several hours”. The boys were then taken to a police station and interrogated.

The interrogator grabbed the boy’s head and slammed it against the wall, slapping him twice. A short time later he returned holding a small electric shock device [Taser]. Yahia says: “He placed the device on my body and I felt a great powerful shock and my body started shivering. I couldn’t feel my arms or legs and I felt extreme pain in my head. I felt I was going to be paralysed, so I decided to confess.”

The process of arrests, intimidation and violence is common practice by the Israeli occupation authorities. The kneeling on the ground, the isolation and the use of hand ties and blindfolds are also used extensively against Palestinians.

In 2010 the UN, in its study “Developments in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel”, documented 90 cases of “ill treatment” of Palestinian children in Israeli detention, of which 75 had their hands tied behind their backs and were also blindfolded. Almost a third of the children were under 15 years of age. Of the 90 detained, “62 children reported being beaten, 35 children reported position abuse and 16 children were kept in solitary confinement. In three cases, children reported the use of electric shocks on their bodies. Particularly concerning was the fact that there was an increase in documented cases of sexual violence.” All of which contravenes international law and conventions signed and ratified by Israel and the democratic principles Israel so loudly proclaims.

Mark Regev, the chief Israeli purveyor of propaganda and deceit, and Spokesman for Prime Minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, stated in The Guardian, “The test of a democracy is how you treat people incarcerated, in jail, and especially so with minors.” Democracy damned by words of duplicity. Much of the mistreatment exercised towards Palestinian children not only contravenes international law, but also violates Israel’s own domestic laws.

When in Israeli custody children are violently interrogated; they are shackled, blindfolded and bound to a chair whilst being questioned. In the B’Tselem report entitled “No Minor Matter: Violation of the Rights of Palestinian Minors Arrested by Israel on Suspicion of Stone-Throwing”, according to Israeli Law, interrogation of a minor may be conducted only by an interrogator who is trained as a youth interrogator. A parent is allowed to be present at all times, and minors have the right to consult with the parent before the interrogation.

According to Margaret Sherwood’s January 22, 2012 report in the Guardian, when in Israeli custody Palestinian children’s rights are ignored and they are verbally insulted. “You’re a dog” and “son of a whore” are common insults. Eventually the majority of children sign confessions that they later state were coerced,

Defence for Children International notes that children under interrogation unsurprisingly eventually admit to the “crimes”, and B’Tselem found that “in the end at least 90 percent will plead guilty, as this is the quickest way out of a system that denies children bail in 87 percent of cases”. According to The Guardian, accusations of crimes justifying these illegal detentions are commonly throwing stones or occasionally Molotov cocktails at soldiers or settlers – both of whom, let us remember. are illegally present upon Palestinian land. A few are arrested for “more serious offences such as links to militant organisations or using weapons. ”

Major Violation, Minor Insecurity

And what “national security information” is being elicited from the interrogation of these children who the Israelis are abusing? According to  The Guardian report,  “They are pumped for information about the activities and sympathies of their classmates, relatives and neighbours.” Within walls of intimidation a child can be forced to betray their friends and families.  Eliciting the names of other stone throwers is a primary aim of the torturer.

B’Tselem points out:

One method the police use to identify juvenile stone throwers is incrimination: the police arrest one or more youths, they are required to give names of other youths whom they saw throwing stones, and these youths are then arrested and required to provide the names of others, and so on.

The children under interrogation in a frightening isolated place, far from the sanctity of home, are under great emotional stress and inevitably give up the names of friends.  The experience is then compounded by the added trauma of guilt.

Children are mostly held inside Israel itself, which restricts access to legal support and excludes family members from visiting. Their freedom of movement is constrained under the occupation, and the necessary permit to visit the prisons is often impossible to obtain. Families are therefore unable to support their children through the ordeal of confinement. Holding children in prisons inside Israel is in violation of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits such transfers. According to DCI, “testimonies [from 310 children] reveal that the majority of children are taken away to an unknown location for interrogation.” This process of arrests, detention and torture operating inside Israel and outside international and national law, offers the victims no legal recourse, and as DCI points out, “there is a general absence of effective complaint mechanisms.”

Legally Binding, Illegally Bound

The Israeli judicial system, as it currently pertains to Palestinian children, allows illegal practices to take place within the walled settlements — themselves illegal — inside police stations and Israeli prisons. International law on the rights of the child, to which Israel is bound, is clear and extensive. As the B’t Selem report points out, “The main document establishing the rights of children is the Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the UN in November 1989. Israel signed the Convention in July 1990 and ratified it in August 1991.

In the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, it states that:

Condemning the targeting of children in situations of armed conflict and direct attacks on objects protected under international law, including places that generally have a significant presence of children, such as schools and hospitals.

Schools are repeatedly targeted by Israeli security forces.  According to the UN in 2010:

There was an increase in the number of attacks on education institutions.  These attacks resulted in damage to schools or interruption of education, placing the safety of the children in Gaza and the West Bank at risk. The majority of cases involved the presence of Israeli security forces within school compounds following raids, forceful entry, and search and arrest operations, including the use of tear gas on students.

All international treatise and conventions signed by the lawbreaker, Israel, safeguard children in conflict, and Israel ignores them all.  As Defence for Children International points out:

These treaties relevantly provide that: in all actions concerning children their best interests shall be a primary consideration; children should only be detained as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.

Being held for 17 days in solitary as Mohammed was is neither short nor appropriate; indeed it is illegal. It is one example within a catalogue of atrocities that sees Israel contravening another convention, breaking yet another international law and doing so with impunity. This must stop.  Urgent action is required to safeguard the children of Palestine and protect them from the tyranny that is Israeli policy in the OPT’s.

In order to fuel what is a furnace of legal standards raging around Israel, let us add The Fourth Geneva Convention, which If America Knew says “grants special protections to minors” and provides 146 articles that protect in law the lives of all Palestinians living under the illegal Israeli occupation. Israel is in breach of them all. Indeed, grave breaches which, in itself, constitutes war crimes.  Israel is guilty of “grave breaches” of the convention and the more serious offense of ‘Crimes Against Humanity’, which is the “legal precursor to the international crime of genocide as defined by the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.” The argument that Israel is committing, or has, in fact, already committed the crime of genocide is powerful and to many indisputable.

Genocide, ethnic cleansing, apartheid, crimes against humanity; titles that all fit Israel bespoke. Call it what you will, the actions of Israel in the OPTs are vile, murderous, calculated and illegal. It is for the international community acting in unity, and led by the UN, to finally stand up and act to protect the lives of the innocent men, women and children of Palestine, lifting the shadow of constant fear, intimidation and aggression from their lives. Humanity is one. Together we must stand in the face of injustice, violence and hate to safeguard the lives of the innocent, the oppressed, the defenseless.

Graham Peebles is an independent writer and charity worker. He set up The Create Trust in 2005 and has run education projects in India, Sri Lanka, Palestine and Ethiopia where he lived for two years working with street children, under 18 commercial sex workers, and conducting teacher training programmes. He lives and works in London. Read other articles by Graham, or visit Graham's website.